News of the Oct. 5 shootings at the Lehigh Permanente Quarry in tech-savvy Cupertino quickly appeared and spread on social media sites as reporters and local citizens tried to make sense of the danger.
The affluent and generally safe community, best known as the global headquarters of Apple, awoke to learn that quarry truck driver Shareef Allman, 47, had opened fire on co-workers during a pre-dawn safety meeting. Throughout the day, as police searched door-to-door for the suspect in Cupertino and Sunnyvale, citizens following the story would use websites and social media tools to monitor the manhunt.
Local news outlets reacted quickly online. KCBS News (740 AM/106.9 FM) was the first to update its followers on Twitter at 6:04 a.m. but with the wrong quarry and town named:
At 6:08 a.m., ABC 7 correctly identified Cupertino as the site of the shooting. The station’s update, retweeted by popular social media news aggregator @BreakingNews, was then re-shared by nearly 100 Twitter users in the following hours:
He added that the news has been “unbundled,” with much of people’s attention now captured by non-experts online, even if those people aren’t experts about what makes news.
But journalists, editors, curators and bloggers still have a role, Herman said, which is probably more important than ever. Someone still needs to sort through the rumor and hearsay — professionals uncover information and find the truth within.
At the San Jose Mercury News, self-described “old-school reporter” Sean Webby said the mainstream media produces much of the breaking information that circulates online. Webby leaves it to more social media-savvy colleagues to promote and distribute the Mercury News‘ coverage. His focus, he said, is to find out what’s going on firsthand and through trusted sources.
“I’m not saying that the average person, Joe the Plumber or whomever, doesn’t have the right or shouldn’t be out there blogging about what their experiences are, what they’re finding out,” Webby said. “That can be enormously helpful. I am saying that…the mode might be quickly changing, but in terms of the content itself, I think we’re still pretty vital.”
AOL’s hyperlocal news site Patch entered the discussion in an uneven fashion. The Mountain View Patch, @MtnViewPatch, retweeted updates about the shooting from the San Jose Mercury-News, asked questions of followers, and updated information about the shooter attributed to the Sunnyvale Police.
Reporters at the Cupertino Patch didn’t begin tweeting until after noon, but then jumped into the conversation by touching base with followers from the area, both to find new information and to ask personal questions of acquaintances like: “Are you and your sister OK?”
By midday, “quarry” was the most-searched term on Google, according to the Mountain View-based tech giant’s Google Trends.
On Twitter, those following the story used the hashtag #cupertino to collect links and observations as local and federal forces searched for Allman. However, #cupertino was not popular enough to break into Twitter’s global top-ten “trending topics.” It peaked in third place on a local trending topic list for the San Francisco area.
Peter Bergstrom, a web architect who works in Cupertino, said he usually does more reading than tweeting when he uses Twitter. But when he heard about Allman’s rampage, he decided to put the site to productive use.
“Our building was in lockdown, we can’t go outside,” Bergstrom said. “There was no information. So, I thought, ‘You know, I should just check this out.'”
Online, he found a website where anyone could listen to the Santa Clara County Sherriff’s police radio transmissions, and shared the link with his followers on Twitter. By mid-afternoon, more than 1,200 other listeners heard what the authorities were talking about as they scrambled to respond to the shootings. (By day’s end, three of the victims had died and six were injured.)
Among the first information turned up about the alleged shooter was his connection to San Jose cable-access station CreaTV. As a producer for CreaTV — but not a full-time employee, according to KTVU — Allman once interviewed civil rights activist Jesse Jackson for community-based television show “Real2Real.” But after several news outlets picked up the YouTube video of the interview, CreaTV removed it from its YouTube page.
Later in the day, though, Twitter users across the country began to make comments of their own. Some included questions for their followers, prayers for the safety of others, personal observations, racially charged remarks and even jokes about the situation. Posts came in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Over 1,200 citizens tuned in to follow the live scanner feed of the Santa Clara County Sheriff”s Office online, with the link to the feed website propagated on Twitter alongside other updates: